Speaker encourages youth to be a force for change

07/15/15 by Rebecca Rider

The fifth year of the National Environmental Summit for High School Students, hosted by the Center for the Environment at Catawba College, kicked off on Tuesday, July 7, with keynote speaker Heather White. Executive Director of the Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy organization, White spoke to this year's crop of students about how one person can make a difference. 

Young people are constantly encouraged to pursue their dreams or to be a force for change, White said, but they're never given a practical guide they can follow. So, she said, she was there to give them some advice.

Creating change is difficult, but it is not impossible—it just takes clear vision and determination.

“It's a lot of hard work, following your passion,” she said. 

The first, and often neglected, step to being a force for change is self-improvement. 

“Do your homework,” White said.

If you are passionate about something, it is important to do the research, do the reading and become informed on the subject. Choose your mentors, White says, and choose them well. People rarely offer to guide you—you have to ask. She encouraged students to use every interaction and to learn from everyone they meet. If you find someone whose work you admire, ask for advice. And don't hesitate to partner with them, if you have the opportunity.  

Don't be afraid of making mistakes, White says. Acknowledge them and learn from them. Move on and don't get discouraged. Remember what the ideal scenario was, and don't lose sight of the goal you had and the feeling of hope and positivity.  

What you do from 9 to 5 really matters, White says. It is important to do something you love, and it is important to do something that changes the world for the better. And don't forget to visualize your goal. Just choosing a path, writing it down and planning can be a huge motivator, she says. You can always change your mind.  

There is no such thing as an impossible goal, White says. It's an important thing to keep in mind, especially for someone going into the environmental field. The changes that need to happen to create a healthy, sustainable world seem impossible, but we have no other choice, White says.

“There are all of these tremendous issues that your generation is going to have to solve, and it's depressing.”

But you have to try, because the environment needs to be protected. You have to, because it is the only option available. You can't be afraid, she says; you have to be hopeful.  

“I want you to lean into the possibilities,” White said. “I want you to lean into the potential.” 

The potential that young people have to create change is limitless, she said. She encouraged the students to start while they are young, to seize the opportunities they have and to utilize their gifts to solve problems creatively to bring much needed transformation.  

“Life can be better than you ever imagined,” she said.

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